During the previous week, I decided to overcome my fears and write my opinions about Islamic banking, an otherwise genuine economic tool that has been turned controversial due to perennial religious tension in Nigeria between Christians and Muslims. Within hours of posting the article, I saw my blog views go through the roof. In addition to that, I received so many blog comments, emails, Facebook messages (since WordPress automatically posts a link to my Facebook page anytime I publish an article), phone calls and face-to-face reactions. The contents of the reactions themselves were varied: from those that called me pragmatic and unbiased to those who were newly-educated by my blog post to those on the extreme right who still believe(d) that Islamic banking was going to ‘Islamize’ Nigeria.
I will not deny the fact that I felt myself being under immense pressure. I was previously hindered from publishing the article because I was torn between saying my honest opinion about it and ‘defending my faith’, as a Christian. But more than that, this situation has given me sort of an insight into the way we view our religious faiths in this country.
Islam and Christianity in Nigeria seem to be in a sort of perpetual fight for supremacy, in which the adherents of one faith try to score pyrrhic victories over each other. How it exactly started, I do not know. But over the decades, religion in Nigeria has moved from being a personal issue, between a person and his God, to an identity, a sort of a key that opens doors to opportunities in this country, be it school admissions or employment or political positions. We have elevated being a Christian or a Muslim as a call to arms, where we defend our faith against those who we believe have sworn to eliminate us if we do not convert to their faith.
It is a pity that in our country, clerics have turned religion into a trade, and religion into politics. Politicians, acting in concert with them, stoke the embers of religious hatred in order to remain relevant and to enjoy the spoils of government which they gain access to by cashing in on their religious cards. They have done so good a job of dividing us that no longer do they even need to push any more buttons to get us to do their biddings. Our minds are now so biased against each other and our hearts imbued with hatred and distrust, entrenched by scores of political riots masked by a veneer of religion, that without any prompting, we are now puppets on their strings, while the same politicians meet together, with a common amnesia for religion and united by greed and selfishness, share our money and laugh at our misery and their ‘good-fortune’.
We have now become more obsessed with defending our religion than with obeying God. God asked us to fear and obey Him; however, we seem preoccupied with interpreting His words in a way that makes us think we are His preferred, and the other ones not even worthy of life. If we truly believe that we are all made equal in the sight of God, why then do we discriminate against each other on the basis of religious faith? I have seen university admissions skewed and biased towards one religion or the other, especially in choice courses such as Human Medicine. However, I am yet to meet any sick person that insists on being treated by a medical doctor of the same faith as his.
We are so distrustful of each other that a new mosque being opened in a predominantly Christian area is seen by the Christian residents as encroachment; ditto for a church being an opened in a majority Muslim neighbourhood. I remember when a church was to be opened not far from our family house. The church had bought a former night club and converted it to a church auditorium. However, some prominent Muslims stood against it, until the traditional ruler, a fellow Muslim, stepped in and insisted on the church being built. In his words, ‘would they rather have a night club, a place where drinking and immorality is promoted and practised, to a church, a house of worship to God?’ The rest is now history.
I have come to realize that what is at stake in this religious battle is that for the feeling of superiority. Going by many of the comments of those opposed to Islamic banking, if it is allowed, Christian banking (whatever that means) must also be allowed. In other words, it wasn’t the presence of Islamic banking that was troubling them. It was the feeling that they were now second-class citizens compared to Muslims. It is for that reason that why we scour university admissions lists or employment lists, taking tally of the number of Muslims and Christians, and when we find that the number of our fellow Christians or Muslims is less than the other, we get a feeling of loss. And it is for that reasons that those in positions where they can influence these things skew them in their favour.
But like I always say, until the day that someone proves to me that poverty is Muslim, or corruption and underdevelopment is Christian, all this attitude, behaviour and mind-set is nothing but arrant nonsense. The problems we face in this country cut across both religions. On both sides of the divide, we have leaders who rather than face their job of bringing development to our country, choose to empty our national treasury for the sake of only themselves, their families and their cronies. We have clerics whose only recurring messages are messages of hate and violence against the other religion, while at the same time, we empty our pockets for them in donations and offerings and foot the bills of their opulent lifestyles while we wallow in our poverty and nothingness; rather than focusing on building us in our personal relationships with God.
For me, religion is a personal issue. I do not see why I should force someone to my way of life influenced by religion or why I should be forced to do same. God, in His infinite wisdom, allowed us to exist in this country as people of different faiths. If He wanted to, He would have made us all Christians or Muslims. After all, there are countries He made so. I love and cherish the moments I spend with my Muslim friends, not just talking about general issues, but even talking about religion. From experience, that with every situation this happens, we learn more from each other, and we begin to realize that we are not so different after all.
Let us build bridges across this divide and cease this senseless battle for superiority that will never lead us anywhere. We are all created equal in the image of God. If we say we love God who we have not seen, how then can we hate our fellow human being who we can see?
“A drowning man never asks his rescuer, ‘Are you Christian, Jew or Muslim?’” Author Unknown
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